What It's Really Like to Live on a Private Island

What It's Really Like to Live on a Private Island

If you’ve always fantasized about living on a scrap of land in the middle of a turquoise sea accessible only by boat with your own private sugar-sand beach, you might like Ursula Streit’s villa. Glamorously situated on a lush coast of Palm Island, part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the nine-bedroom, nine-bathroom, 10,000-square-foot home with a private beach and lagoon can be yours for $11,000,000. You can call St. Vincent & the Grenadines Sotheby's International Realty if you want to buy it (for me), because, now 76 years old, Streit has decided it’s time to sell. (She wants to travel more.)

Streit spends a chunk of each year living in her villa on Palm Island, which includes about 10 occupied private vacation homes and a single resort, and the rest either traveling or at her other home in Switzerland. Her property includes the villa, a cottage for surplus guests, and a house for her four staff members — who live on a nearby island and care for the property daily year-round — to use for lunch and showering. I rang her up to find out if living in a gorgeous, three-building property on a semi-private tropical island with a staff and a skipper to take her wherever she wants to go in her boat whenever she feels like it is really as fabulous as it sounds.

KAY WILSON

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How did you end up with a villa on a beautiful tropical island that almost no one else lives on?

We started traveling in the Caribbean in the early '70s. We found the property because we found the island. At the time, there was only a little hotel standing on the island with four bungalows. We bought the property twenty years later, in 1993.

COURTESY URSULA STREIT You and your husband ran a publishing company when you decided to buy property on Palm Island. What was your life like then?

You are up in the morning very early or you work late into night. Every hour, something comes up, which you have to deal with. We were running the company ourselves. We had 40 staff or something, but a publishing company is a very personal affair, so you have to give at all times. We had 14-hour days easily and we certainly had six days a week working.

What’s a typical day like for you now?

I get up around 7:30, 8 o’clock, wait until the staff is coming over from the next island, get my coffee and use the computer, because 8 o’clock here is 2 o’clock in Europe. Then I go for a long swim. And then I have my breakfast and then I usually see to things that need attendance here in the house — the problems or improvements or gardening. I go around with the staff to give them my instructions, and then I have my books and my deck chair.

If I have guests, we have a snorkeling trip or go shopping on the neighboring island. Then at night, we have our drinks at 7 o’clock and then at 8, we have dinner and a little bit of dressing up.

What kind of staff do you need to maintain your home?

I have a caretaker. I have a technical manager and skipper who runs my little boat. I have a little boat to do my shopping. I have a gardener and I have a housekeeper. She has become quite a good cook.

They are living on neighboring Union Island, about 10 minutes away. The hotel is providing transport for their own staff and staff of homeowners [are] allowed to go on the hotel staff boat as well. When I’m not here, they come each day to air the rooms and to look after everything. I make a point of having them over at all times. Some homeowners here don’t in order to save money but I think it’s worthwhile. They need to have a relationship to the property, otherwise they wouldn’t care.

TOLGA AKCAYLI

How do you shop?

We have to go shopping on Union Island, which has some small supermarkets and things, but not really special stuff. I am also getting supplies from St. Vincent, the main island, by ferry boat or plane. So my thing here — and this I really relish — is I want to cook local — local vegetables and fruits, fish — and make nice meals out of what we can get here. I must say all my guests love it.

If you have to run out for milk, let’s say, do you ever pop into the boat and drive yourself to the next island?

No, I don’t drive it myself. I get my skipper to take me.

COURTESY URSULA STREIT

What do you do if there's an emergency?

From Union Island, one can take a small plane to Barbados or St. Lucia. And there will be an international airport on St. Vincent which will be officially inaugurated in mid-February.

There are no major internet problems unless heavy rainfalls have an impact on not so solid wiring, but everything works itself out within 8 hours maximum. Medical issues are certainly another point, and this can be more serious, but it can also be handled if one brings the proper attitude. There are very gifted general practitioners in the local health care center, but they are not pros for heart attacks, strokes, or very serious wounds. Arriving guests do have to be prepared to solve whatever problem occurs when it occurs. And there are always solutions.

Can you give an example of a problem you’ve dealt with as a homeowner that’s hard to solve on an island?

Our sewage pipes broke the other day. In other countries, you have those clever companies who come with their lanterns and their cameras and whatnot, and then after five minutes, they tell you, “It’s there.” Here, we have to be very patient — follow a pipe, dig it out, and then we have to decide how do we close the leak. Here, we have to have some imagination. It usually takes about three times as long as in other countries, but in the end, it’s fixed. The locals can make something out of nothing.

And we don’t have water on this island. We collect rainwater and, to add to it, I have a desalination facility installed, which of course needs to be working more or less flawlessly.

Kay Wilson

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How much does it cost to maintain the property? Including your three houses, the desalinator, cars, boat, insurance, staff, etc.

Per year it costs me about $200,000. If we have to replace any parts, they must come from the States, mostly. And this makes the whole thing very expensive because import duties are high. If I have to get a new fridge, which I want to get from the States, it’d pay about 100 percent import tax.

What’s the best thing about living on Palm Island?

Changing your view of things. We are getting so often excited about things that are really not worthwhile — only because everyone else around us is excited, we believe we have to do the same thing.

I feel that I’m much more balanced than many people around me. When I have guests, the first three days, they are zipping around and yammering away on their mobile phones and asking, “What do we do next?” And then I say, ”OK, calm down. Sleep, read.” “What can I do?” “Nothing.” “I can’t do nothing.” Oh, you can. After three days, you can do it. Persons who are used to glamour, nightlife, media at all times, no, they would not survive here.

KAY WILSON

Do you think living on Palm Island would be less fulfilling if you were there year-round?

I don’t think I would like that. When I’m back home after three months of island life, I love to go to the movies, I like to go to museums, have different conversations with different people.

What’s the worst thing about island life?

I don’t think there is any worst thing for me. We had a hurricane five or six years ago, which was crushing to the island, but hurricanes are part of life here, so I can’t say it’s the worst thing. Some would say the mosquitos. You can use repellant.

Follow Amy on Twitter.

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Source : http://www.cosmopolitan.com/lifestyle/a8527875/living-private-island/

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